Crop Talk with Dustin Fleming
Welcome to Crop Talk, our blog series with Barnie’s Coffee & Tea’s Manager of Coffee Programming, Dustin Fleming. No matter which Crop Ex batch you’ve brewed for the day, Dustin’s the man who saw it through, from sourcing to roast.
Dustin breaks down the history of American diner coffee and the best way to introduce new people to the hobby.
Can you think of any flavors that would appeal to that non-coffee drinking friend you’re just dying to convert?
Here’s the way I’ve gotten many people on board: does your friend like alcohol? Because coffee and alcohol are a match made in heaven for this – people have been mixing them forever. The best way to get people to warm up to the taste of coffee is to put something in it they’re very familiar with. For instance, when you’re mixing Baileys liqueur and cold brew coffee, you’re basically making a coffee milkshake. Then, you slowly wean off the sweetener.
The first thing I will tell anyone who wants to get into coffee is, just find flavors you like. If you like vanilla, you like vanilla. You can put enough vanilla in coffee so that you don’t taste the coffee. Now, that’s not where I want you to be, but I can get you there and work with that. The biggest thing is to put a really good cup of coffee in front of someone and let them taste it, to let them see what they like.
Can you describe the “All-American Coffee Profile?” What does a non-coffee drinker think of when they hear the word “coffee,” and why might that perception be a barrier?
Drip coffee first became popular in American diners in the early 1900s. A lot of people drank coffee back then, just like today, and people wanted the cheapest cup of coffee they could get. You can still find old posters from that time, saying “5 cents for a cup of coffee.”
Then the Great Depression hit, and then World War II hit. A good portion of the coffee that would have been consumed at home was sent overseas to the GIs in rations. As a result, coffee companies began mixing robusta coffee – a hardier, “less tasty” coffee bean – into arabica coffee to meet demand and drive prices down. Most diner coffee still contain about 10 to 20 percent over-roasted, bitter robusta grounds today.
American diner coffee typically has a medium-heavy body and it’s roasted dark and bitter. People want to feel like they’re drinking coffee. As far as flavor goes, it’s usually very chocolatey, a little smokey – maybe a bit of tobacco in there. Your American drip coffees can be acidic, often to compensate for people adding creamer to their coffee, which cuts through that acidity. It’s very basic – it’s just a cup of coffee. What happens is that people assume all coffees drink the same way because the American diner coffee is all they know.
What happened between the 1920s and now that led people to try drinking coffee differently?
Early 1900s cooking is quite different from the gastronomy you see today, so our tastes as a culture have changed drastically. For instance, since we’re putting sugar in everything today, our sugar receptors need to be stimulated a lot more than they used to be. So that classic American coffee doesn’t do so well with people aged 40 and younger because they eat differently than their parents did.
That’s what gave birth to the specialty coffee movement in the mid-Eighties: people tired of drinking the same kind of coffee. First, people started adding flavors to their coffees: Irish cream, hazelnut, French vanilla and all those flavors people still associate with coffee today. Then we started thinking about coffee as it relates to the source and started serving coffee just the way it was. “Maybe we haven’t been roasting this correctly the whole time, maybe our rations have been off” – all these questions came up that will impact how we even experience that American, diner-style coffee in the next 20 years.
Does Crop Ex offer any specific coffees or buy from any particular regions that are newbie-friendly, so to speak?
Let’s start with a classic coffee that isn’t American diner style, like our Colombia Huila. It’s not a fruit bomb, it’s not savory, but you’re going to sit down and say “wow, that’s a good cup of coffee.” It’s not bitter, it’s a little sweet and it’ll get you by.
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